Our ice sheets are melting, our oceans are acidifying, our sea levels are rising and 97% of climate scientists agree that human activity is the cause. The effects of climate change will be profoundly destabilizing, and ecosystems will suffer. And yet, these alarming facts have not been met with action due to a seemingly global inability to accept science as fact. In this defining moment, the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University stands up and strongly states, “Science matters.”
The Academy of Natural Sciences is dedicated to ensuring a healthy, sustainable and equitable future for our planet. By supporting the Academy at year’s end, you can assist our scientists and students as they research a world that is changing at an alarming rate.
One such scientist is Jocelyn Sessa, PhD, assistant curator of invertebrate paleontology. Jocelyn is one of many scientists at the Academy researching how ecosystems are responding to our changing environment. She studies the “canary in the coal mine” for acidification of the ocean — pteropods. Pteropods are tiny snails with thin, translucent shells. Although they’re the size of a grain of sugar, they’re an incredibly important indicator of what is happening in an ecosystem because their shells are especially prone to dissolution by ocean acidification.
Ocean acidification has been occurring since the industrial revolution. As ever more CO2 is pumped into our atmosphere, the ocean absorbs it and becomes more acidic, making it harder for organisms like pteropods to grow their shells. As a crucial part of the marine food web — a staple for whales, cod, shrimp, krill and more — changes that impact pteropods impact the entire ocean ecosystem. Jocelyn analyzes both modern and historical specimens from museum collections. Her goal is to determine a baseline of pteropod shell thickness over time and understand how ocean acidification may have affected shell growth.
Academy postdoctoral researcher Rosie Oakes, PhD, developed a method to quantify the thickness of the pteropod shell with the use of micro-CT scanning, which allows Jocelyn and Rosie to reconstruct the climatic conditions that have affected ecosystems historically. Understanding how these ecosystems responded to past events allows us to predict how they may respond to the changing conditions in today’s oceans.
Another member of the invertebrate paleontology team, collection manager Katy Estes-Smargiassi, is working to digitize the Academy’s specimens so they can be analyzed by other researchers from around the world. The Academy is home to the oldest invertebrate paleontology collection in North America, comprised of approximately 1 million specimens. Katy will catalog each specimen and make the Academy’s collection available online for the first time ever.
Katy’s priority is digitizing approximately 18,300 specimens from the Cenozoic Era (the last 66 million years of Earth’s history). These particular specimens capture a record of several important climatic events and can help researchers understand how marine ecosystems have responded to climatic changes in the past. With these materials made widely available online, researchers throughout the world will have access to information to better predict how these organisms may respond to similar events in the future.
The Invertebrate Paleontology team is just one of several Academy departments making positive impacts on our world and providing real science to inform public opinion so that it might shape public policy. Each of our scientists, collection managers, educators and students is a champion of the natural world.
If you want to become a better steward of our rapidly changing planet and to make the sorts of changes that alter the course of our future on Earth, the time is now. Consider a tax-deductible year-end gift to the Academy, and you, too, will be a force for nature.
Photos by Five Five Collective for ANS